The White House blamed the Obama administration Sunday for failing to tackle possible Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election, sticking with a new strategy to fault President Trump's predecessor for an issue currently facing the president himself as part of a widening FBI probe.
Appearing on ABC's “This Week” on Sunday morning, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, struck a combative tone, saying: “It's the Obama administration that was responsible for doing absolutely nothing from August to January with the knowledge that Russia was hacking into our election. They did absolutely nothing. They're responsible for this.”
Then, referring to a Washington Post story last week that chronicled in detail the intense debate within the Obama White House on how to handle the mounting threat posed by Russia to the United States's democratic process, she said: “I have a hacking question for the Obama administration: Why did you, quote, choke, in the name of one of their senior administration officials? Why did you do nothing? Why didn't you inform candidate Trump?”
Conway was referring to a quotation in the article by a former senior Obama administration official involved in the Russia discussions who said the Obama White House's handling of the Russia hacking was “the hardest thing” for him to defend from his time in government, and added, “I feel like we sort of choked.”
But despite the nation's intelligence agencies having hard proof that Russia — and not any other country or entity — did, in fact, meddle in the 2016 presidential elections, Trump repeatedly seemed to fault everyone but Russia.
During the first presidential debate, Trump acknowledged that Russia could be behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, but added, "But it could also be China, but it could also be lots of other people, it could also be someone sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds, OK?"
And, as president-elect, after being definitively briefed by the intelligence chiefs that Russia was behind the hacking and had tried to interfere in the nation's Democratic process, Trump finally conceded in his first post-election news conference that, "As far as hacking, I think it was Russia."
"But," he added, "I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people."
Conway's comments echoed a tweet sent Friday by Trump, who called on the media after the Post report to shift their focus from him to the previous White House. “Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why no action?” he wrote.
Conway echoed that criticism.
“I know you thought Hillary would win, but how could you not reveal important information about Russia hacking?” she said. “When the president found out about it in January, as president, he said it was a disgrace. He believes Russia was behind it, but he thinks other people hacked, too.”
She concluded: “I think the previous administration has a lot of questions to answer given this Russian obsession by everyone.”
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), the Democratic minority leader, rejected Conway's remarks in an interview immediately after hers on the show, noting that the Obama administration is “no longer in charge” and calling on the White House to support a bipartisan Senate bill that imposes additional sanctions on Russia and Iran. The White House is lobbying against the bill.
“Now, Donald Trump seems to be opposing that,” Schumer said. " The American people are scratching their heads. Knowing his relationship with Putin, they’re saying why the heck is he opposing strengthening sanctions?”
Although the bill is stalled in Congress, Schumer said he hopes House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) will help push it through, and he added that if the president vetoes it, he believes Democrats and Republicans will override the veto.
“So the bottom line is if Donald Trump wants to do something about Russia and Russian meddling, better than just saying Obama didn’t do enough, support our sanction bill,” Schumer said.
Conway — who reiterated the president's previous statement that while he believes Russia was involved in 2016 meddling, “others are hacking, too” — also said that the president's commission on electoral integrity, which Vice President Pence is chairing, is part of the administration's effort to respond to the Russia threat and that the White House is taking other steps, as well.
“He signed very early on a cybersecurity executive order and has an entire task force, they met just this week, and it's headed up by his homeland security adviser, taking into account what foreign governments may be doing,” she said. “That goes for Russia or anybody else who wants to interfere in our democracy.”
Pence's electoral integrity commission, Conway added, has 10 members and plans to issue a report addressing “everything from voter fraud here domestically to possible hacking by foreign governments.”
“He takes very seriously integrity at the ballot box in all of its forms,” she said.